It’s one of the most quotable movies in history, and the book is equally memorable. Both versions of The Princess Bride, written by William Goldman, with the film directed by Rob Reiner, are unquestionably classics, and essential geek fodder.
But we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to peek behind the curtain, which, given the narrative structure of The Princess Bride in both forms, seems entirely appropriate.
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride is a memoir of sorts, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, mostly from the perspective of Cary Elwes, who played the farmboy Westley, aka the swashbuckling Dread Pirate Roberts.
What makes this book special is its format. It’s not just a walkthrough of the making of the film, it’s virtually a documentary, and as you would expect from such a documentary, you don’t just have the main narrator talking, but little snippets of interviews with other important figures sprinkled throughout. These come in the form of sidebars which are not directly interjected into the narrative, but rather can be jumped to when the reader feels ready for it between paragraphs.
It’s not often that I recommend an audiobook over a written one. Audio books are often abridged, for one thing, which the snob in me frowns upon. But when they’re unabridged and performed well, I see them as on par with the written form.
But this is the rare case where I have to say the audiobook is superior. Not only is it unabridged and read by Elwes himself, but all the mentioned sidebars are read by the actual people involved: Christopher Guest, Carol Kane, Norman Lear, Rob Reiner, Chris Sarandon, Andy Scheinman, Wallace Shawn, Robin Wright, and Billy Crystal. In the case of Elwes, for the most part he sounds the same as he does in the film, so it’s almost like Westley is narrating, rather than Cary.
However if you’re unable or unwilling to go for the audio format, never fear, it’s impossible not to read the book in Wesley’s charming voice, especially when he’s making winking references to various memorable lines.
The Princess Bride was William Goldman’s favorite book and screenplay, and he was both afraid it would never be produced, and terrified it would be. This is Hollywood we’re talking about, after all. It’s not hard to imagine such a production going horribly wrong. In fact, it was considered impossible to make by many, even though it had passed through the hands of numerous talented people.
It’s rather surprising, given how effortless the finished product looks, to think that anyone saw making this as an impossibility. But at the time it was something only fans of the novel even wanted to touch, and that included Rob Reiner. The only reason he was allowed to even try was the fact he was given carte blanche on his next project after his two previous highly successful films, The Sure Thing and This Is Spinal Tap.
As You Wish is filled with warm anecdotes about how the film came to be made, and the cast that was a part of it. The competitive nature between Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin as they practiced fencing relentlessly with two legendary masters of the craft to create The Greatest Swordfight Ever is just one of many highlights, and reaffirms just how good that scene truly is.
Perhaps the most memorable bits about the book involve the late, great Andre the Giant, who we get a chance to see as someone other than his wrestling persona or the giant Fezzik. He comes across as larger than life (which, well, I mean, look at him) and almost everything one reads about the man both puts a smile on your face and feel a little bit sad as well. He lived a good life, but it was a short one, and far from a painless one.
Tales about the director, Rob Reiner, are also a highlight. He provides perhaps the majority of the book’s sidebars, filled with his own unique humor and perspective. It becomes clear that one of the main reasons this movie worked was because Rob loved the material and knew the right people to make it happen. He believed in the project, and got everyone else to believe in it just as much.
Of course, it wouldn’t be until years later that he’d be proven right financially. Believe it or not, The Princess Bride was not a box office hit. The studio had no idea how to market it, though it seems like a no-brainer to us now. It wasn’t until it came out on VHS that it started building a cult-like status as it was bought as gifts, added to collections, shared through word of mouth, and eventually passed down from parents to children and grandchildren. To many, it’s just that special.
If you are a fan of The Princess Bride (and who isn’t) this essentially the ultimate DVD bonus feature—it just so happens you won’t find it in any DVD.
Originally Published in KODT #241